Having lost at home to Manchester United and away to Manchester City on 2 consecutive weekends, Aston Villa have a pretty tough job on their hands. Fail to beat Arsenal, and they will remain in the relegation zone. There is even the possibility that they could drop to 19th by the end of the weekend if Southampton get a result against Newcastle on Sunday. The performance against United was fantastic; having taken the lead twice they were unlucky to have come away without any points. However, they were unable to really stamp their authority on the game at Eastlands last weekend.
Arsenal are looking to turn their season around, having won last week in the North London Derby and midweek against Montpellier. Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski are beginning to find themselves among the goals and the team seems to be in good spirits. Bar an injury to Theo Walcott, we are able to field almost a full-strength starting XI (see below) against a Villa team that is missing Darren Bent and Charles N’Zogbia. However, Christian Benteke could be a big threat.
Predicted Starting XI
The latest team news is that Andre Santos, Theo Walcott, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky are all out, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been passed fit.
I expect a slightly changed line-up from the team that won 2-0 over Montpellier in midweek, with Kieran Gibbs and Gervinho to slot straight back into the team after returning from injury. Thomas Vermaelen has looked relatively comfortable at left-back, but Gibbs and Podolski work really well together down the left-hand-side. Per Mertesacker has been a rock at the back and will probably be preferred to Laurent Koscielny. With Walcott injured, I expect Gervinho to start ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain. The rest of the team pretty much picks itself – our midfield trio of Wilshere, Cazorla and Arteta is an absolute delight to watch.
- The last time that we lost at Villa Park was on the 13th of December 1998. Arsenal were winning 2-0 at half time with a brace from Dennis Bergkamp, but Villa fought back to win 3-2, with a goal from Julian Joachim and two from Dion Dublin.
- Jack Wilshere’s goal against Montpellier was his first goal for Arsenal in 725 days (only a few days short of 2 years). In fact, his only Premier League goal came in a 4-2 win at Villa Park on November 27th in 2010.
- Despite our terrible defensive record since September (we have conceded 18 goals in our last 10 games), Arsenal are apparently the only team yet to concede in the final 15 minutes of a Premier League game this season. It will be interesting to see how this works out bearing in mind that there has been a goal scored in the 87th minute or later in 7 of the last 9 league games between Arsenal and Villa. Last season, Yossi Benayoun came off the bench to head in a late 87th minute winner from a corner.
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